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Frances Tiafoe makes his first breakthrough at Wimbledon

Photo by Keith Allison

One of the hottest prospects in American tennis made a breakthrough appearance at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament of the professional calendar. 20-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who is of Sierra Leonean descent, made it through to the Third Round of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in south-west London, England. With the grass court season notoriously short, preparations for the Wimbledon championships are never straightforward for professionals, but Tiafoe ripped up the form book to make a statement in the First Round, defeating 30th seed and experienced campaigner, Fernando Verdasco.

His First Round success over the veteran Spaniard gave Tiafoe the confidence to go into a Second Round clash with another ageing professional in the shape of Julien Benneteau. Although Tiafoe dropped the first set, the starlet reacted positively by going on to take the next three sets thanks to some impressive baseline rallies and solid serving. Reaching the Third Round stage meant that Tiafoe would guarantee his best ever finish in a Grand Slam yet, surpassing his Second Round finish in the 2017 Australian Open.

Tiafoe’s Wimbledon looked set to go into the round of 16 too after storming to a two-set lead in his Third Round encounter with promising Russian, Karen Khachanov. However, the disappointment of losing a narrow third-set tie break, followed by the fact that Tiafoe had played two gruelling four-set matches prior to this match, saw Tiafoe run out of steam and crash out of the tournament. Despite the disappointment of throwing away another winning position, Tiafoe moved up to 45th in the world rankings due to his encouraging Wimbledon performances.

Tiafoe has already earned over $1.2 million in career prize money at the tender age of 20. Such is the depth of riches on offer in professional men’s tennis. This is more than most people win when they get lucky with a progressive jackpot at a real-money iGaming title. With at least another decade in the sport – providing injuries don’t take hold – there’s nothing to stop Tiafoe becoming the biggest name in U.S. tennis, with his ability across all court surfaces.

Tiafoe’s upbringing in tennis and life in general was far from conventional. In fact, his pathway into professional tennis is akin to the breakthrough of the Williams sisters in terms of the trials and tribulations Tiafoe and his family went through to help him reach the pinnacle of the sport. Frances’ father, Constant, took the decision to immigrate to the United States from Sierra Leone, taking a job as a construction worker at the Junior Champion Tennis Center in Maryland. Constant maintained a full-time position at the Center after the building was completed, working as the Center’s Head of Maintenance.

It was while his father was working hard that Frances and his brother Franklin would mess around on and around the courts until they were old enough to hold a racket. Both brothers started playing at the Center and it was Frances whose potential was eventually spotted by a young pro teaching him at the time, Misha Kouznetsov. Tiafoe was eventually granted a $40,000 scholarship by the Junior Champion Tennis Centre, securing academic and professional training that would pay off almost immediately.

Tiafoe won both the Orange and Easter Bowl events, which are very prestigious in American junior tennis. In doing so, Tiafoe became the first youngster to win both tournaments since the enigmatic John McEnroe in 1976. Fast forward to the present day and Tiafoe has made tremendous strides since those Orange and Easter Bowl successes. Prior to his encouraging Wimbledon, Tiafoe secured his first career ATP Tour title with a straight sets victory over German, Peter Gojowczyk at the Delray Beach Open in the US. Hard courts have certainly treated Tiafoe well in the past, but his success in reaching the final of May’s Estoril Open on clay and reaching the Third Round at Wimbledon suggests Tiafoe has the game to become an all-surface contender.

Tiafoe has also publicly embraced his position as one of the few black players on the ATP Tour. The youngster is keen to be viewed as a role model to more Afro-American kids, recently insisting that one of his “biggest motivations” was to “get more black people playing tennis”. If Tiafoe continues to wow the crowds with his shot-making and play with a smile on his face, there’s no doubt that he could become the star that American tennis so desperately needs.

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Black Westchester - News With The Black Point Of View is an online news magazine for people of color for Westchester and the Tri- State area of New York at every economic level. Our mission is to promote the concept of “community” through media.
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